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Georgia Lala

Georgia first became involved with the Society when she participated in Bronze and Silver CREST projects in middle school. Now she is a Prime Minister's Science Prize winner, a Duke University graduate and has just completed an internship with the Helen Clark Foundation - which has driven her new-found interest in policy research.

I was incredibly lucky growing up to attend a school that empowered me to indulge in my love of science and research. My first introduction to Royal Society Te Apārangi was participating in the Bronze and Silver CREST projects in middle school. I have particularly fond memories of completing my Silver CREST project with my best friend over the school holidays during which we studied the growth of microbes in contact solution to test safety and durability. Each day my friend and I would pay a visit to the science department’s incubation unit to see if our samples showed any signs of microbial development. The Silver CREST project was my introduction to the dedication and patience required for the research discipline. 

In my senior year of high school, I started to experiment with aquaponics. My interest stemmed from a visit to the EPCOT Theme Park, Disney’s theme park dedicated to experimentation and innovation in Florida. EPCOT utilises hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics to grow food sustainably for the entire Disney theme park. I became interested in finding a way to scale down EPCOT’s sustainable food growing methods so that the average New Zealand household could use them to grow their own produce. Aquaponics works by growing fish and plants together in a system where the waste from the fish fertilises the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish. Typically, individuals and companies utilise aquaponics on a large scale, however, my research led me to develop a home-sized aquaponic unit that families could use to grow produce to decrease their carbon footprint. 

Georgia by fish tank v2

Georgia with her research project

At the end of 2015, I was privileged with the honour of winning the 2015 Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize through the Royal Society Te Apārangi for my research. The whole experience was quite surreal. The ceremony, held in Wellington, was the same day as my level 3 NCEA Chemistry exam. I was based in Auckland at the time and so the Society kindly organised for me to take my exam at their offices in Wellington in the morning so that I could attend the ceremony with everyone else in the evening.

Georgia at Lecturn 3.

Georgia giving her acceptance speech after winning the 2015 Prime Minister's Future Scientist Prize

In 2016 I had the opportunity to present my research at the 2016 TedX Auckland Conference. I based my presentation on thinking outside the box when it came to sustainability and innovation. 

Finding my way through university was a bit of a challenge at the start. I started out my academic journey at the University of Auckland, enrolled in a Biomedical Science degree. I initially hoped to go on to qualify for medical school. However, I struggled during the first few months of my degree as I quickly realised that, although I loved science wholeheartedly, I also had interests elsewhere that I wanted to explore. Many of my friends volunteered for UN Youth New Zealand and I loved spending my weekends with them at conferences and civic events. 

In April of 2016, I saw my chance to explore these other interests when I received a Robertson Leadership Scholarship to attend Duke University in the United States. For what was probably the first time in my academic career, I gave myself the space to explore all of my interests and passions without worrying what it might mean for my future career. At Duke I fell in love with politics, international relations and governance. I found like-minded life-long friends in student government, mock trial and the university’s undergraduate conduct board and a mentor in a processor at Duke’s school for Public Policy. 

I graduated from Duke University in 2020 with a degree in Political Science, International Comparative Studies and a minor in Arabic. I channelled the passion I had for scientific research into policy research and realised that the two were not all that dissimilar. In 2019, I worked with the Helen Clark Foundation on a paper advocating for drug policy reform in New Zealand in the lead up to the 2020 Cannabis Referendum. The internship was my first taste of policy research in New Zealand and I quickly realised this was the path I wanted to pursue after university. 

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Now that I am back in New Zealand I hope to explore opportunities available in governance and policy writing. I still enjoy volunteering for UN Youth New Zealand in my free time and seeing my friends outside of university. I’m constantly looking to push myself to try new things and keep an open mind to new opportunities as they present themselves.